Texas Senator Angela Paxton, who represents Texas’s Senate District 8, has filed a bill for the 87th session of the Texas Legislature that would prevent government officials from issuing an order that would close places of worship.
“The (COVID-19) pandemic has been interesting in many ways, but one of the things that has really happened during this time is there's just been these unique situations that we really never encountered in Texas and in our society about, kind of, the way things work,” Paxton said.
Paxton said she had heard a lot of concern from constituents about government closing places of worship. The idea for the bill specifically came from Pastor Gerald Brooks at Grace Church in Plano, she said.
Paxton said it was one thing for churches to choose to meet in a way that makes people feel comfortable and safe.
“And we saw churches do that,” she said. “We've seen churches continuing to do that. But it's a whole other thing for government to say 'you must close.'”
Paxton said she doesn’t see her bill as a companion bill to HB 525, which has been filed for the 87th session of the legislature by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) to establish places of worship as “essential businesses” at all times. Paxton said her bill takes a different approach than the house bill does.
“I think that they definitely are connected,” she said, “and I know that Pastor Brooks had conversations with Rep. Shaheen as well.”
Shaheen’s bill uses language that both lawmakers and voters have become familiar with in the wake of a pandemic. Phrases like “essential business” and “state of disaster” pepper his bill while Paxton’s states that neither a government agency nor a public official can issue an order that closes or results in the closure of places of worship in the state.
“So it's very simple and straightforward, not complicated to understand, but it goes at, you know, this is a fundamental right we're guaranteed in our constitution for religious liberty,” Paxton said, “and those things don't go away just because we're in an emergency state or a declared disaster.”
For Paxton, the reason for writing her bill goes back to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“I think it's just important, when we see things where government gets out of its lane, that we speak to it and we speak to it immediately, because when something kind of goes a little bit out of bounds, if you don't say anything, it happens again, and at a certain point, it becomes something that you're very uncomfortable with.”